It is an international cliche that women are not just a half of the population but a half of all voters, and potentially the most powerful voting block in any election. Unfortunately for themselves, women rarely, if ever, vote as a block. But what do the political parties have to offer women in real practical terms, that will make a difference to their lives, and decide which party they vote for?
We can start with these elections and formation of Cabinet, but there are far more important issues relating to jobs, incomes, household work and leisure.
Women’s Representation in Parliament and Cabinet
One of the interesting aspect of the Bainimarama Government is that despite being totally in control of all appointments and not answerable to voters, Bainimarama had only 1 woman in his Cabinet (perhaps there were no Cabinet positions left for women, after 2 individuals decided to hog 10 cabinet positions between them).
While other elected governments may have been a bit better, none gave a fair go at having a good balance of women in their election line-ups or in their cabinets.What will be the gender balance of all the political parties in the forthcoming elections? Much will depend on whether the electoral system has a “Closed List” (in which case women can be properly represented at the top for each party) or an “Open List” in which case women will struggle as they always have.
Voters can ask Commodore Bainamarama (and his Party when it eventually appears next month) why they rejected the Closed List system (if they do) that would have been extremely useful for women to be properly represented in Parliament
Representation in Parliament and Cabinet:
Voters must ask all political parties how they will ensure a fair balance of women (say more than 40%)
(a) in their elections line-ups
(b) in their Cabinet, should they form or be part of Government.
Women in Employment and Incomes
There are many studies of Fiji’s labour market that indicate that women are under-represented in both the private and public sectors at the higher levels, and, despite their equal qualifications and experience, are on lower salaries than men. For example, this study of mine not only has data on incomes and employment but also unpaid household work:
There is also another Report which has been long been finalized but yet to be approved by Planning Office for publication by the Fiji Bureau of Statistics (Fiji Women and Men at Work and Leisure, Fiji Bureau of Statistics, 2014). This report will not only have the latest data on employment (paid and unpaid) and incomes, but also interesting data on leisure activities such as sports, kava drinking, watching television and attending religious gatherings. These studies show that some improvement for women are taking place in employment and incomes, especially for younger more educated women, but the changes are happening extremely slowly.
Gender equality in senior positions and incomes: Voters must ask the political parties what concrete measures they will take if they are part of the next government,
(a) on gender equality in employment and incomes at the higher levels in the public service particularly, and board membership of government public enterprises.
(b) on gender equality in training for professional and technical programs where females are grossly under-represented
The killer household work.
Few understand that the total amount of unpaid household work (in hours), is roughly equal to the total amount (in hours) of paid work in Fiji (as it is internationally). The two national studies (I have referred to above) have confirmed that there is gross gender imbalance in the unpaid household work (cooking, child care, clothes, cleaning, garden) done by working men and working women, and boys and girls. In Fiji, working women do some 15 hours per week more than working men, while girls do some 4 hours per week more than boys.There is very little improvement taking place in either gap.This imbalance in household work reduces the time available to women and girls for professional development and leisure activities, such as sports.
Gender equality in unpaid household work
Voters must ask the political parties what policies they will put in place to encourage greater gender equality between men and women, and boys and girls, in the unpaid household work that is done throughout Fiji.
The most recent data coming out from FBS surveys will indicate that women have available some 5 to 7 hours less per week in leisure activities than men, and girls have some 4 hours per week less than boys. Males and females spend about the same time on religious gatherings and watching television. But men spend far too much time (between 5 to 7 hours more on average) on kava gatherings and drinking, which time is not available for doing their proper share of household work.
To encourage a better sharing of household work, voters can ask political parties what will be their policies on encouraging men to reduce the time they spend at kava gatherings.
It has often been the case in Fiji’s history that women’s organizations have not only fought for specifically women’s issues and interests but also national issues and interests, which have required them, of necessity, to be critical of the government of the day. Often, the government of the day (several governments) have ostracized those critical women’s organizations and disregarded their inputs into national and international policy making, while recognizing and supporting only those women’s organizations that pander to them. In a truly democratic and free society, a responsible government would be inclusive of all organizations, and be principled and strong enough to accommodate robust debate and criticisms of governments and their policies.
Voters can ask all political parties whether
(a) they will follow principles of inclusivity towards women’s organizations (such as Fiji Women’s Rights Movement, Fiji Women’s Crisis Center, Femlink, Soqosoqo Vakmarama, etc) which may take principled stances which occasionally may disagree with government positions.
(b) they will give priority to women’s issues as articulated by their organizations, such as the prevention of violence against women.
Sports (including gender issues in sports)
The data from the latest Fiji Bureau of Statistics surveys will show that women and girls devote much less time (3 to 5 hours less per week) to sports than do men and boys. This gap persists into middle ages and later, leading to poor health outcomes in females, and obesity in many. Much of the problems begin at the secondary school ages, where the sports facilities and school for female sports, is nowhere as strong as are available for males sports such as rugby and soccer. These disparities continue into the national competitions and higher levels, where sports sponsorship (from both government and the private sector) for male-associated sports is far in excess for female associated sports such as netball. Female sports often have to struggle to obtain funds to participate in international events, or even get local television coverage. Readers might look at this 2005 article:.
Fiji’s exclusion from Super 15 rugby is also a sad opportunity gone missing not just for our rugby but also tourism. See here:
Voters can ask all political parties what will be their policies on
(a) Ensuring that there is equality of sports equipment, facilities and grounds, for girls as for boys throughout all the primary and secondary schools in Fiji.
(b) Ensuring that financial resources (from both government and the private sector) and made available for sports sponsorship for female sports, matches that available for male-associated sports
(c) Ensuring that all major sports (rugby, soccer, netball, athletics) receive adequate annual funding from government which forms an adequate base for them to build on.
(d) Female sports receive as much coverage in the media as male sports.
(e) Fighting through PACER Plus negotiations to get a Pacific rugby team (including Fiji, Samoa and Tonga) as part of the Super 15 competition.
TO BE CONTINUED: Affirmative Action for Indigenous Fijians: in the business sector